Many children struggle with reading fluency, right into high school. It is most commonly noticed in younger children who are just learning to read on their own.
First, take a look at the child’s decoding skills. That means, how does the child approach a word he or she does not know? Does the child immediately guess a word? Does the child appear to be sounding out the beginning letters? Are they accurate? Once you know if the child needs more help with decoding, fluency will have to wait just a little bit. Imagine trying to read a sentence if you struggled to sound out every single letter of every single word.
Children need to know all their letter-sounds and many consonant blends (bl, cl, br, sl, and many more), digraphs (sh, ch, th, wh, ph) and vowel sounds (long and short) before we can expect them to be fluent. When a person needs more practice with learning sounds and sound combinations, be patient. Encourage them that they will get it and that lots of people struggle, even adults. English is a very difficult language to learn because we have so many rules and each rule has a number of exceptions, so how can one ever know? Here is a sweet website with learning material for teaching blends and digraphs.
Once a child has up to 50 site words, or words they can read pretty much automatically, they can start to read simple books. Kids need to hear good reading to know what to imitate or copy, so read to your child every day, if only reading a recipe or short article of interest in the paper or online. Find something to read. You don’t need to sit down and make your kid read some novel out loud either, but he or she should also have daily opportunities to read aloud and practice some skills.
If you’d like to know how fluent your child should be, consult the fluency table I link to below. Then, you can have your child read something to you that you consider fairly easy but not baby-reading, depending on the age of your child. It should be something that he or she knows most all of the words, but not something they have read 200 times since birth and have it memorized. Independent reading level is considered where a child reads with 95% accuracy, so that meaning is not lost. That is the level of book your child should read by themselves.
One common way to measure fluency is to have a child read aloud a passage for a one-minute time period. Count the number of errors in decoding and count the total number of words read. Subtract the number of errors from the total number of words. This raw number tells you the words-per-minute. With a simple division problem, that is words-per-minute divided by divided by total number of words, you have the percentage of accuracy. If the number is below 90, the passage may be too difficult to expect fluent reading. Rereading can improve fluency and increase confidence too. When kids see the numbers getting better with just a little bit of practice, they are motivated.
Keep in mind fluency is not just decoding words, but speaking them with meaning and recognizing the various marks of punctuation when we speak. Comprehension is also a factor. If one reads the words correctly but has no idea what they mean, am I fluent? I think no. A common measure of fluency is words-per-minute, and I often refer to a Fluency Standards Table, of which there are many. Even Pinterest has a page to promote fluency activities! Very cool! Most of all, focus on improvement and enjoying what it is you decide to read with your child.
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